The best language to learn – Spanish or Mandarin?
Personal circumstances may dictate which is the best language to learn. If your ethnic background is Chinese or Hispanic then of course you should learn the language closest to you. This little report is really written for an English speaking monolingual looking to learn a second language.
Why Spanish and Mandarin? Because it usually boils down to these two. Learning any language is satisfying and bestows many benefits on the learner….but these two languages have in built global advantages and may even boost your career.
Why learn Mandarin?
Mandarin is often recommended as the best language to learn – and indeed many classes have sprouted up to meet the demand. The interest in the language is clear. China is becoming an economic powerhouse and, what is more, it is the most populous country in the world with 1.3 billion people. That may be so but it is not quite as clear cut as that.
Mandarin is the main language of China but not the only one. There are 5 other major languages as well as many dialects. It is spoken in one other country – Taiwan. Even so, it is estimated 800 million people speak it – and maybe even a billion worldwide. It is big!
Economically, China has a GDP of US$ 5500 billion and rising fast. If you want to be part of the economic future then learning Mandarin makes some sense. But lets take a closer look at Spanish.
Why learn Spanish?
Spanish may not be spoken by more people – but is certainly spoken in more countries and those countries are more dispersed. Spanish speaking countries include: Spain, Colombia, Peru, Venzuela, Ecuador, Guatamala, Cuba, Bolivia, Honduras, Paraguay, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, Equatorial Guinea, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Domincan Republic, Nicarahua, and Uruguay. Wow, that’s 21 countries. Furthermore, Spanish is one of the 6 official languages of the USA with 44 million people – just as many as Spain!
If Spanish is spoken in more countries and indeed more continents, how does it fare economically? Setting aside the USA, no country above can compete with the GDP of China. But when we add them all together – and take 14% of the US economy (which approximates what the Hispanic community accounts for) the Spanish aggregated GDP is about $6000 billion.
Of course that may change. China is on a bull run. However some of the Spanish speaking economies are rising fast and even faster than China. Who can say? As things stand you can make just as strong an economic case for learning Spanish as you can for Mandarin. So I am entering this as a draw – you could learn either language based purely on economics.
The last consideration is: which language is the easiest to learn? On this question Spanish wins hands down. Indeed recent research from the Foreign Service Institute at the US Department of State suggested that Manadarin is the second most difficult language in the world for an English speaker. Only Japanese was deemed more difficult. Spanish however is considered one of the very easiest for good reasons.
English and Spanish have the same Latin roots and share many words. They have the same alphabet. This means you can make up every word you need to know, and have a stab at pronouncing them, using letters we are familiar with. In Mandarin there is a different symbol for each word. To be proficient you need to learn thousands of different symbols. Furthermore when speaking, intonation, plays a major part – much more so than in English. This is extremely difficult for an English speaker to master. Even the Chinese know that their language, as beautiful as it is, is very tough for a foreigner to learn.
So when we tot up the scores it goes like this:
Numbers of speakers 0 1
No. of countries 1 0
Accumulated GDP 1/2 1/2
Ease of learning 1 0
Totals 2.5 1.5
Being as objective as I can, my recommendation for the English mono-lingual with no particular connection to China, is to choose Spanish. If all goes well, make Mandarin your third language!
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